Tools, templates, and best practices

In the first part of this post, I introduced ‘The Golden Circle of Advancing Your BA Toolkit’, as a principle to help us elevate the business analysis toolkit. If I were to summarize and crystallize this principle I would say:
“This is a principle of starting with WHAT you or your organization use as existing skills, tools, techniques and BA templates, analyzing HOW you do it through the various BA assessments and determining WHERE you want to take it with the rights steps and setting the required key performance indicators or critical success factors”
In this post, I want to extend this definition and focus on the importance of directionality of the traverse
What does it mean to ask the right question in the right order at the right time?

The Direction of Real Progress [Proactive]

When I introduced the golden circle for BA toolkit, I had emphasized the importance of starting with “WHAT“.  There will be unforeseen consequences when there is no accurate and actionable snapshot of the “AS-IS” state.
When you start with “WHAT” you are taking a proactive approach. You’ve taken a step back to gain a perspective that helps you see the current state of your skills, capabilities, tools, techniques and templates. Once you get a grip, you move on to the “HOW” to compare, contrast and understand where you can (and want to) take your AS-IS state of the toolkit; extending your detailed assessment. And when you know the “HOW” in a sufficient level of detail, you move to the “WHERE” to act on the gaps.
This is the direction of real progress! This is you (or your organization) being proactive. 
If we extend the example of use cases that we used in part 1 of this post, once you know that you predominately use use cases as a technique to document your requirements, and gain an understanding of the gaps that exist in “HOW” you do it, you decide to fill the gaps through a training course, mentoring or self-study – to specifically focus on the gaps.
This is the inside out direction of real progress and advancement.

The Direction of Quick Fixes and Broken Promises [Reactive] 

Now, what do you think happens if we flip the direction? 
What happens if you start with “WHERE” and work towards “WHAT”?
Let’s see… 
You or your organization is presented with a random BA course through a big and reputable training organization. The course is developed by an “expert BA” who was practicing 25 years ago but has many impressive diagrams and huge thick training material. The intent of the training is obviously to improve the capability and skills of the business analysts (and elevate the practice) in the organization. The direction of “WHERE” you’ll be able to take your toolkit is defined by the objectives of the training course. 
You enjoy the luncheon, the ambience and the company. Company-sponsored training always has some magical ways of generating a rush of endorphins. 
And… you got the much need break from work and ….. so did your BA toolkit!
You now come back from your training course with a supposedly stronger “HOW” you can improve your analysis to improve “WHAT” you do. 
If you appreciate the importance of requirements and objectives traceability, you’ll quickly realize that the traceability cord was cut too soon. Right after the WHERE! 
So, you get the idea.

The Key Takeaway for You (and Your Organization)

If you want to enhance your capability as an individual or organization, you should aspire to start with “WHAT”, by performing a thorough as-is analysis of what’s in your BA toolkit. Followed by understanding (with specifics) “HOW” you’re doing what you’re doing and the deciding “WHERE” to take your toolkit. 
Don’t let a mentor or a big BA training company let you decide how you need to improve. Be proactive about who you engage with; or even better, create custom in-house training. Nobody knows you or your organizations challenges better than you! 
One of the key principles in advancing yourself as a professional is finding out what your blindspots are and doing everything it takes to address them. If you ever need external help to unravel these blindspots, hire a professional services organization that has genuine interest in advancing business analysis, and puts the interest of the community (and your organization) first. 
I hope these insights and ideas will help you to advance your BA toolkit.
Now, go start with WHAT and best of luck doing that! 
Please use the comment space below to share your feedback, thoughts or any questions you may have.
Are you ready to have a paradigm shift in how you can advance your BA toolkit?
Let me first introduce you to the original golden circle by Simon Sinek in his TED talk (second most watched TED talk of all-time) that distilled into a detailed manifesto in his book “Start with Why”. In an earlier post I had listed this as one of the seven books that business analysts must listen to
Here’s a little take away for Business Analysts from this book:

Click to continue

Thumbnail image for Seven Deadly BA Templates Sins

Seven Deadly BA Templates Sins

by Yaaqub Mohamed a.k.a Yamo2

Are you a business analyst who is jaded with the statistics of how poor requirements are #1 cause of failure in projects? 
And to your utter delight this theory and statistics repeats every year. 
According one of the many statistics the #1 cause of failure of projects is due to requirements… In one particular CIO analysis for example, the number was as high as 37%.
So, specifically the top cause of project failure is due to: 
Requirements: Unclear, lack of agreement, lack of priority, contradictory, ambiguous, imprecise.
In this post, I am not proposing that having the right BA templates  will help an analyst communicate requirements clearly and solve this problem and elevate us to the sainthood of project and business success. However, you’ll see factors and practices that trace back to some of these elements that causes project failures. 

Click to continue

I must admit, I have a love-hate relationship with templates. On the one hand they can be an effective way to support well-defined business analysis processes, ensuring deliverables are presented in a consistent manner and facilitate a shared vision. On the other hand they can be cumbersome, overly-complicated forms that lead to confusing, boring deliverables that detract from their original intent. As Business Analysts, what can we do to define and refine our templates so they help more than they hinder our goals?

When I’ve worked with clients to enhance their organizational business analysis maturity I’ve developed templates to support the business analysis processes being put in place. Through my work with these organizations, I have come up with some initial overall assessment and template-specific criteria to help figure out when a template is needed and if the developed template is ready for use.

Initial Overall Assessment Criteria

To get started, I usually want to determine which templates are needed versus what may be nice to have or even hamper business analysis activities. Some of the typical questions I will ask include:

  • Who performs the business analysis activities for the organization?
  • What is their level of expertise and competency in business analysis activities?
  • What are the deliverables within the business analysis function for the organization?
  • What tools are available to develop and maintain business analysis deliverables?
  • How will the content within the business analysis deliverables be used by stakeholders?
  • Are there related job functions within the organization that will contribute to a shared deliverable or where the business analysis output is already defined in one of their templates?
  • What is the size of the organization or organizational units in scope that will use the templates?
  • How diverse is the employee population (in terms of educational background, cultures, and job functions)?
  • What is the recent employee turnover rate for the organization?

For each deliverable a BA may expect to develop, you can use the above information to determine whether a template is mandatory, helpful but not absolutely necessary, or has limited value.

In smaller organizations or organizational unit (less than 200 people), I have found less need to have templates for intermediate or seldom-performed activities, particularly if they share a similar background or have been predominantly working together for many years with little turnover. In these situations staff can often quickly understand each other through a variety of communication methods, and are less reliant on standard documentation to achieve a shared vision. In some circumstances, the rigidity of a template can inhibit their dynamic communication or adds an unnecessary layer of work before they can continue to the next task in the process.

Organizations that rely on people to perform business analysis as a secondary job function, or who frequently bring in business analysis consultants or contractors to perform BA tasks, often benefit from having more templates than fewer ones.

Template Quality Criteria

A good template is like a good deliverable: it should be understandable to its target audience, be purpose-driven, and present a clear and consistent message. The University of Reading in the UK has a very good list of 16 quality criteria for any document, which can also apply to templates.

When a template is drafted, the following questions can be put to all the stakeholders involved in the creation and use of deliverables based on the template:

  • Is the purpose of the template clearly defined?
  • Is it easy to see when the template should be used, either in the business analysis process documentation or within the template itself?
  • Are there instructions on how to complete the template? Have they been vetted by the users of the template as being clear and relevant?
  • Are there examples on how to complete the template?
  • Are there related templates for diagrams or other artifacts that go into the template?
  • Is it clear which sections must be completed versus optional?
  • For optional sections, does it clearly state when these sections should be included?
  • If there are many optional sections:
    • Are there several either/or sections?
    • Are there sections for infrequent occurrences?
    • Would it be better to have separate templates for alternative circumstances?
    • Where there is information being pulled from other sources, is it clear how to bring that information into the template in a consistent manner?
    • After you’ve used the template a couple of times, do you find yourself having to spend more time customizing or removing information from the template than you do putting information into the template?

Once the template is developed, it should be reviewed regularly to ensure it still meets the needs of the organization given the inevitable changes that occur over time. The only thing worse than no standards is out-of-date standards.

Beyond Traditional Documents

As Business Analyst tools and techniques have matured, alternatives to traditional Office document deliverables are starting to become more prevalent. Whether you are using a wiki, a video, an interactive web-based presentation, a functional or non-functional prototype, or some other manifestation of business analysis work, the above principles for template development still apply. Some level of standardization with these outputs develops consistent stakeholder expectations and ensures the resulting outputs are able to be used in the next stage of the overall organizational process that business analysis is occurring within.

Templates can be a helpful addition to a BA’s toolkit or a hindrance to getting work done; if you are going to use them take the time to develop meaningful and actionable templates that will make your life simpler in the future.

Your Thoughts Please

 How has your experience been working with templates? Please use the comment area below to leave your feedback or any questions.

 Wait a minute, did I just say that there is a template called “BA Approach”?
Chances are that you may already be involved in contributing to defining business analysis approach one way or another – without knowing it, now is the time to discover it! 
Like some of the tasks in the BABOK don’t directly align with what you do or it maybe called differently. One classical example is conducting a “Requirements gathering sessions” vs. what the BABOK refers to it as “Conducting Elicitation Session”… btw, I have a big issue with the word “gathering”, we will leave this one for another post another day!
So, back to “Business Analysis Approach” and understanding how you can perform it in your projects effectively. 
In this post, you will learn and understand what defining a BA approach really means and also learn how to use the BA Approach template.

First Principles – What is Business Analysis Approach?

Let me illustrate with an example. Imagine John and Mary are getting married. If this is a “Change” that needs to planned, a lot of things have to be done until the day of exchanging the vows. And imagine Julia is getting hired as an event planner responsible to organize and plan their wedding. She would have to:  
  • Clearly understand what values are dear to John and Mary as a couple
  • What kind of wedding they wish to have (low-key, high-profile, destination, etc.)
  • What kind of wedding invitations need to be printed
  • The complete guest list and detailed profiles of their family members and close relatives 
  • A VIP guest list 
  • Food preferences, menu choices, etc.
etc…. you can imagine other important components. 
If Julia was a BA in her previous life (and regrets switching to being an event planner), her approach to planning wedding will include:  
  • A checklist of tasks that need to be performed to make the wedding successful (checklists for different aspects)
  • A list of stakeholders that need to be invited or  consulted.
  • Deliverables and milestones to be achieved all along (sample wedding card, cake prototype, menu sampling, booking and tour of the convention centre, photography and videography, etc.) 
If you notice, she has externalized her intentions, ideas and work on paper. This helps her to do her job better, and calms the nerves of the couple-to-be. 
As a Business Analyst (especially if you are a seasoned professional), doing this at the beginning of your analysis can help you immensely perform your job better.

BA Approach In BABOK 

The first knowledge area in BABOK – Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring – elaborates on BA Approach (BABOK 2.1).  Here is a definition from BABOK (V2): 
“Business analysis approaches describe the overall process that will be followed to perform business analysis work on a given initiative, how and when tasks will be performed, the techniques that will be used, and the deliverables that should be produced.”

Three Secrets to a Great Start 

  1. Understand the problem and organizational context - understanding  the business problem being solved or looked into is an important first step. Your approach to build a software would be different from the one to outsource or improve a process. Is the organization process heavy and mature or is a start-up filled with instragramers who will post the product backlog on Facebook. 
  2. What type of project is it? – closely related to understanding the problem, take a step back and understand what kind of project is being undertaken. Is this an in-house software development for a mission critical business application or a COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) product for a not so critical department. 
  3. Introspect and seek help right away if needed – do you have experience in working on a project like this before? If you do, don’t let your past experience cloud fresh possibilities. If you don’t have experience either in working on a similar project or using the current methodology, seek help from another BA / Requirements Manager or a Centre of Excellence if the organization has one. You don’t want to do 12 months of work and then appear foolish at the cost of appearing a fool for the first 12 hours.  

The BA Approach Template – Key Components

  1. Approach for BA Work – this section should describe at a high level what approach is being followed to perform business analysis. What crucial elements need to be part of approach. Providing an overview of the business problem, goals and objectives is useful. 
    1. Techniques, Deliverables, and Timeline is a key component here:
      -       Create a list of techniques such as process modeling, use cases, document analysis, requirements workshops, and interface analysis.
      -       Produce a high-level business requirements document and a detailed stakeholder and solution requirements document.
      -       Establish a high-level timeline of abstraction showing key business analysis milestones leading up to requirements sign off.
  2. Timing of BA Work - is the BA work going to be done in the beginning or performed iteratively all through the project. 
  3. Formality / Level of Details - depending on the organizational context a formal approach maybe adopted. If there are requirements standards that need to be followed, this needs to be detailed here. 
  4. Requirements Prioritization Approach - how will the requirements be prioritized and the key stakeholders involved in the requirements prioritization process.
  5. Tools for BA Work - if there are any requirements management tools or repositories used, this needs to be detailed out here.
  6. Project Complexity - this could be an assessment of how complex the project is based on the number of impacted areas and the criticality of the change from the organizational perspective.
  7. Approach to Scope and Change Management - how will the changes to scope and requirements be handled, if a high level process or flow chart needs to be built, you could define it here.
  8. Approach to Sign-off - what modality and approach will be followed to get concurrence and sign-off for requirements.
  9. Approach to Communication - how will the communication occur, the medium and frequency used.

Business Analysis Approach Template – Download for FREE

[Coming soon] 
We are putting together a great list of FREE templates for the BA community. The BA Approach template will be part of this and you will be able to download a FREE template soon.

Your Thoughts Please

Have you used a BA approach template or creating something analogous before you started analysis? What name does this template or activity have in your organization?
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